By Brian Keogh
Big chief Peter O’Keeffe is just six rounds away from matching Padraig Harrington and grabbing his European Tour card at the first attempt.
But that’s where the comparisons end for the 6 foot 5 inch Cork ace, who has decided to turn pro for this week's Q-School finals after a frustrating finish to his amateur career.
While Harrington dominated the amateur game, O'Keeffe never won a major Irish amateur championship or even a full Irish cap.
And the strapping Douglas man, 25, hopes to put his amateur disappointments behind him by grabbing a top-30 finish and a priceless European Tour card when the six-round marathon tees off tomorrow. (Thurs)
Brimming with confidence after coming through the first two stages as an amateur, O'Keeffe said: “I will be dropping my amateur status this week and I am turning pro.
“I was a plus three handicap when I played my last amateur event and I played at No 1 on the Munster team that won the Interpros at Baltray this year, winning five points out of six.
“That’s about as good as it got for me because my only amateur wins were in America where I played golf at Southeastern Louisiana for three years until last May,
“I never won at Boys or Youths level, though I did have a few seconds and thirds. And I never won a Senior cap for Ireland either. I was on all the panels and played Boys and Youths internationals.
"What happened in the amateur game makes no difference at this stage but it was very disappointing to go through the ranks and not get to that top rung of the ladder."
O’Keeffe has every reason to feel disappointed that he never got to make his full international debut in this year's Home Internationals after a brilliant performance in the Interpros.
But that's all history now as he battles for his card in a 156-man field that features 29 European Tour winners, including former Ryder Cup players Joakim Haeggman and Andrew Coltart.
O'Keeffe said: “All I am thinking about now is making it through this week. I have a low category on Challenge Tour next year just by getting this far but the better I do this week the better my status becomes.
“The big goal is a tour card and I honestly think it is a realistic goal. There are 156 guys playing and finishing in the top 30 doesn't seem out of reach for me this week. Let's see what happens.”
A massive hitter off the tee, O’Keeffe’s powerful build wouldn’t look out of place in a Munster pack at Thomond Park.
But he also has the delicate touch to match his impressive power and with a degree in Exercise Science from Souteastern Louisiana University, he has brains too.
His mental game will be tested to the limit this week, when he tees it up alongside Irish hopefuls Colm Moriarty, Stephen Browne, Michael McGeady and Damian Mooney as well as former Irish Open winner Patrik Sjoland.
But he showed he has plenty of guts after finishing birdie-birdie to get through the first stage by the minimum and then claiming sixth place at stage two last week.
He said: “I’ve been planning this for the whole year. I knew I was playing well and I got off to a nice start in Stage One at St Annes because I had to birdie the last two holes to get through.
“I was learning from different pressure experiences and last week I knew I was playing well coming in and made sure I kept disasters off the card and stayed as patient as possible.
“This week it's a six round tournament and it is just about staying patient and trying to keep your ball in the fairway.”
With Douglas buddy Dave Connolly on his bag, O’Keeffe is feeling good about his chances.
And while he turns 26 on Friday, he plans to put the celebrations on hold until next week.
He beamed: “I won't be doing any celebrating until this is all over. I'll save it for Tuesday night, hopefully. If I could get my tour card, that would be the perfect present.”